"If there is evil in this world, it lurks in the hearts of man."
—Edward D. Morrison
Tales of Phantasia was the first game in Namco's Tales Series, debuting on the Super Famicom in 1995.The story begins when best friends Cress Albane and Chester Burklight return from a hunting trip to find that their entire village has been destroyed, and their families slaughtered. Swearing of revenge is imminent.It turns out that the culprit needed Cress' heirloom pendant to unlock the seal on Dhaos, the legendary Demon King. Picking up a White Magician Girl (Mint Adnade) and a guide (Trinicus D. Morrison) along the way, Cress and company arrive just in time to see the seal broken and Dhaos freed. Unfortunately, Dhaos is only vulnerable to magic, and the World Tree that powers magic has been dead for a century.With the last of his powers, Trinicus flings Cress and Mint a century into the past, where they land in the middle of a world war between the human country of Midgards and the evil forces of Dhaos. As Cress and Mint are unable to use magic, they recruit a half-elf witch called Arche and a human summoner called Claus F. Lester. Together, they must figure out a way to Save The World and defeat Dhaos once and for all.Over the course of the rest of the game, Cress and Chester continue acting vengeful and manly. Arche kicks off the Tales Series' fine tradition of exploring racism through elves. Claus redefines long-distance relationships with the help of the Spirit of Creation. Dhaos sets the standard for Tales Series villains as Well Intentioned Extremists. Also, there's a minor time paradox in there.Phantasia played many RPG tropes straight, but on the technical side, it was nothing short of a marvel. Programmer Hatsuya Hiroshiba found a way to fit full voice acting for all the moves and spells and a full opening song into the plucky Super Nintendo cartridge, with room to spare for brilliant arrangements of Motoi Sakuraba's gorgeous themes. The early version of the Linear Motion Battle System was a bit rough around the edges, but when the game was remade for the PlayStation in 1998, the control scheme was redone to fit Tales of Destiny's revamped "command" style, and all sorts of little extras were dropped in, from an extra character to little graphical coolnesses.Phantasia also invented many of the series' set pieces. A huge number of the moves that later Tales Series swordsmen would use come straight from Cress' playbook. Phantasia also introduced the basic spell list, most notably the high-level magic "Indignation" (which comes with its own incantation too).There was a remake for the GBA, which was the first version to get an official English release. While there are a few incredibly awful spots in the localization, such as the "Kangaroo War" for Ragnarok and the poor quality of the voice casting and acting, most of the fanbase's issues with it are a result of Nintendo not taking... liberties... with the script that the best-known Fan Translation did. (If they had done so, the game almost certainly wouldn't have got by with anything less than an "M" rating.)There are English patches for the SFC and PSX versions available online. There are also two versions for PSP, one being the "Full Voice Edition" and the other being paired with an Updated Re-release of the Game Boy Color sequel, Narikiri Dungeon. Recommended in general, but especially for people who liked Symphonia, just to play "spot the continuities." Unfortunately, neither version was released outside of Japan...... until an iOS port (based off the "Full Voice Edition") was released in September 2013 in Japan, which was followed by an English translation in January 2014. However, Namco Bandai eventually shut down the game servers and quietly pulled it from the App Store later in 2014 with no explanation, leaving the game completely unplayable.Due to Executive Meddling (most likely brought on by a desire to make the game better compete with the then newly-released Chrono Trigger,) the original development team schismed and mostly broke away from Namco after the game released, going on to reform into Tri Ace and create the Star Ocean series.The most well-known PSX translation is available here. An alternative translation - completed on December 31st, 2012, after 12 years of work - is available hereA four-episode OVA based on the game was created in 2004, and licensed and dubbed by Geneon three years later.Due to the fact that about a decade passed before a canon English translation was released, there's a bit of conflictabout what some of the characters' names are.In order to reduce confusion, please use the official localized English versions of the character names, and not the DeJap versions.
A psuedo-sequel called Tales of Phantasia: Narikiri Dungeon was released for the Game Boy Color in 2000. It would later get an Updated Re-release on the Playstation Portable (along with the original Tales of Phantasia game) as part of the Tales of Phantasia X project celebrating the 15th anniversary of the game's release.The story is set one hundred and seven years after the conclusion of Phantasia, and focuses on two twins named Dio and Mell. One day, the two twins are met by a mysterious woman who prophesies a "doomed future" for them both unless they complete the Ordeal of Spirits, a trial where they must seek out and test themselves against the twelve Summon Spirits of Aselia. While doing so, the twins explore the aftermath of Tales of Phantasia, travelling through time and space to speak with the alumni of Phantasia and uncover deeper insight into their thoughts and motives. The Updated Re-release adds another character to their party: Rondoline E. Effenberg, a mysterious time traveller looking for Dhaos, the Big Bad of Phantasia.The key feature of the game was the ability of Dio and Mell to "dress up" as various character classes (Fighter, Thief, Mage, etc.), gaining new powers depending on which role they were portraying. Their wardrobe included the outfits of various Tales Series heroes and villains, and even cameos from various Namco Bandai games. The concept proved so popular that it formed the basis for two more Narikiri Dungeon games, though they would be released under the Tales of the World banner.
Contain examples of:
Acrophobic Bird: Averted. One puzzle requires leaving Arche behind to stand on a switch so that she can fly out of a hole later, and in a scene after defeating Volt she's asked to go fetch treasure chests that are normally inaccessible.
Aerith and Bob: Cress Albane's parents are Miguel and Maria. Clearly, someone decided not to pass down the Hispanic heritage.
After the End: A meteor impact thrust society back into the dark ages, from which it is only just emerging.
Alas, Poor Villain: Among the earliest RPGs to do this, especially with the Big Bad. It's mentioned that Dhaos actually was trying to save his own people who needed mana to live whereas your races didn't, and that if you look at it from their perspective, you're the villains. Whenever Arche would bring up this possibility, Cress would just begin shouting at her.
Amnesiac Dissonance: In Narikiri Dungeon, Dio and Mell discover that their past selves are Dios and Meltia, the two people responsible for destroying the World Tree of Derris-Kharlan, turning it into a wasteland and kicking off the events that led to Tales of Phantasia.
And I Must Scream: Remember the sarcophagus Dhaos was sealed in at the beginning of the game? The one he was trapped for ten years in? Remember how he was able to mind-control Mars to an unspecified extent? Yeah, that confirms he was conscious the entire time he was sealed in there, only kept from starving to death because of his magic. Can't exactly blame him for losing the last few shreds of sanity he had after that.
And Man Grew Proud: The war between Fenrir and Odin is what left mankind vulnerable to a meteor strike in the first place
Anime Theme Song: Yume Wa Owaranai/The Dream Will Never Die. Fully voiced on the super famicom, too, something almost unheard of at the time.
Anti-Frustration Features: If you fail the button pressing minigame with Arche in Dhaos' castle enough time, Claus gets impatient and he and Mint do it for you.
Also, Chester will likely rejoin your party at a third of the experience levels of everyone else. From the PSX version onwards, sleeping at Inns will show a couple scenes in which he level grinds himself at night while the others are sleeping. Afterword, he gains massive amounts of Experience, catching him up fairly quickly.
Anti-Villain: Although a major jerk, Dhaos, as it turns out, is only trying to save his own homeworld from destruction. A noble and someeverybody would say heroic motivation. It's only too bad he considers it so far above this one that he regularly Beam Spams everyone with no regard for the consequences. Hey, it's not his planet he's screwing up now, is it?
Dhaos orders the total and absolute elimination of any communities he deems has any remote connection whatsoever to magitech development. This often includes completely clueless children who are murdered for the sole reason of being the unlucky offspring or relatives of magitech scientists. Aseria's magitech research was rushed into unstable development to (whoops) combat Dhaos's own pre-emptive threats against the planet. Furthermore, when the party rushes Dhaos's palace following the Valhalla battle, he puts on his trollface and simply questions them—a group of soldiers clearly representing a society he has already threatened to annihilate—on what their reasons are for coming to kill him. This is a problem on its own, since he already brainwashed Meia to personally assassinate the party earlier in the game. Dhaos consciously decides to exert a form of omnipotent racial discrimination and become the judge, jury, and executioner of Aseria to benefit Derris Kharlan. In all practicality, he is utterly clueless to the ramifications of his actions at every level. The famous "If there is evil in this world..." quote is less thoughtful social commentary and more just illustrating Dhaos's ridiculous mindset that self-defense is a form of evil and mindraping people to commit atrocities somehow proves natural human malevolence.
Dhaos is a very good candidate for Anti-Villain, but this isn't obvious to Cress' party or the player due to ever only seeing him when he's in the middle of Jumping Off the Slippery Slope. In the prequel novel Katararezaru Rekishi, it's revealed that Midgard had been developing magitech weapons since before he arrived on Aselia, to combat the hordes of demons already hostile toward it. Dhaos attempted to talk down the head of the magitech research, Reisen, but Reisen suspected him of being a demon due to his alien mana and refused to listen to him. He then proceeded to attack Dhaos, and although Dhaos escaped, his close friend Winona is severely injured in the attack, and Reisen claimed Dhaos attacked first, making him a fugitive and a wanted man, hunted by the guards of Midgard. Left with no other choice and no option to negotiate, Dhaos aligned himself with the demons attacking Midgard, in the hopes of stopping magitech development as quickly as possible. However, although he commands loyalty over his demons, he is not omnipotent or omniscient, and several of his demons went out of control, resulting in far more body counts than Dhaos would have liked; Demeter was only supposed to assassinate Rhea's parents for their role in magitech development, Rhea herself would have been spared as she was a close friend of Winona. Instead, Demeter went mad with the power granted to him by Dhaos, and slaughtered the entire town.
Arc Words: "If there is evil in this world, it lurks in the hearts of men." Cranked Up to Eleven in the OVA.
Art Evolution: A strange version in that it happened between versions; the in-game character sprites of the SNES version were based on an earlier artists work on the game, but the portraits and general artwork all used the newer character art. This resulted in characters on the SNES version looking very different in-game compared to their portraits (Claus in particular is almost completely different). Later versions changed the sprites to be based on the newer artwork.
Artificial Stupidity. Averted for the most part. The ranged characters like Mint, Arche, Chester, and Claus will stay clustered in the left part of the screen if you tell them to. Your spellcasters will, for the most part, figure out which spells don't work on enemies through trial-and-error until they settle on a spell that does. However, there's still problems like Mint repeatedly trying to use Hammer skills on an enemy that's clearly immune to them (like bosses,) sometimes doing that instead of healing or buffing, and sometimes your other spellcasters will still spam spells that clearly aren't working or aren't as effective as another spell in their arsenal (even if they casted that one earlier in the fight.) Fortunately, you can turn off spells to keep them from using them.
Mint's other problem is also the fact that the AI can't predict what'll happen, so she will start casting spells with a cast time (like Pow Pow Hammer, Acid Rain, or Sharpness) when Cress or Suzu are taking damage and not cancel it to swap with a heal.
Ascended Extra: Suzu goes from an NPC in the SNES version to an optional hidden party member in all future versions.
Awesome, but Impractical: The Sword Rain technique causes Cress to attack with a flurry of stabs that deal massive amounts of damage. Unfortunately, each hit also pushes the enemy backwards while Cress stays still, so unless you have your opponent pinned against something (or your opponent is the type to keep running into your sword,) you'll only get in about three hits at best; not worth the amount of TP the move consumes. Unless you first corner the enemy to the edge of the battlefield, which then most of your attacks will not be able to push the enemy further back, in later games, Cress gets pushed back by himself though. The protection square skill of cress which was supposedly used for pushing enemies away become Awesome But Practical if you corner the enemy.
Badass Normal: Chester; Cress has the legendary Eternal Sword, Arche can cast devastating spells, Klaus can summon elemental spirits to fight, and Suzu is the next successor to the Fujibayashi ninja clan. Chester is just a guy who learned to use a bow to hunt. Even more obvious in the SNES game, where he doesn't learn any skills, and yet has the second highest damage output of the party, just behind Cress.
But Now I Must Go: At the end of the game, Claus and Arche have to return to the past. Arche is a bit of a subversion, since, being a half-elf, she'll still be around in 100 years (though, at best, her relationship with Chester will in her point of view be taking a 100 year break) and they can just visit her whenever, but Claus... must return to his love, with the little dirty magazine(and tons of other books) he got from the quest.
Call Back: If you cast Indignation on Dhaos during your fight with him midway through the game, he shouts "Sonna... Sonna bakana!", just like he does when it's cast on him in the prelude fight in the intro (of course, due to Time Travel shennanigans, it's technically the same fight with different people involved, so it makes sense for him to say the exact same things.) As a Shout-Out to this, every Bonus Boss version of Dhaos in later games in the series has responded the exact same way when Indignation is cast on him.
Chaste Hero: Cress. It happens when Arche is explaining why she left Mint alone in the White Forest to meet the Unicorn.
Arche: Because... well... once, there was this guy, and...
Cress: ...and what?
Arche: ...and... you know! So I thought the Unicorn wouldn't see me!
And much earlier into the game, Cress seems to struggle with understanding the implications of Mint and he sharing the same bed.
Competence Zone: Total aversion of the "Too Old" type. Claus is pushing thirty while the rest of the group average age 16, Suzu pushing it down, being age 11, but he's the brains of the operation from the moment he joined and does most of the talking to other people.
Determinator: Chester level grinds himself while the others sleep so he can catch up to them. Only in PSC version and onwards.
Disc One Nuke: Several candidates depending on version. In the SFC release, Maxwell qualified but was toned down in the PSX release. Indignation qualifies in either version. Gnome can be obtained really early as well, though he's incredibly hard to beat at that level. By Sequence Breaking (or using the behind-the-counter trick in Olive Village) and saving up a load of cash you can acquire advanced weapons for Cress long before you'd normally get them (simultaneously offset and built-in in PSX release since Gungnir is a great weapon gained by story progression, but in SFC version Gungnir is underwhelming).
Doomed Hometown: Though it becomes a thriving city in the future, named after Cress' father.
Dual Wielding: One of the spirits has four arms, enabling him to quadruple-wield little staff-spear things. That make lightning.
Enemy Scan: Magic Lens items. Can be used to fill in entries in the monster encyclopedia. Getting 100% completion of this gives Claus a new title when you start a new game+ on the PSX version.
Fantastic Science: Sorcery is treated this way (even more so in the prequels). Your party visits three separate "magical research labs" over the course of the story, and Claus considers himself a scientist.
Frothy Mugs of Water: A Duel Boss in the second part of the game is forced by all the characters other than Cress having hangovers after a night of party on the sea. The official translation changes this to "ate too much."
Mint didn't get drunk. She was just very seasick.
Gag Dub: The famous/infamous fan mistranslations of the SNES version has Claus asking Cress which girl he would rather sleep with, and Arche dreaming about having sex with Cress after getting drunk.
It is indisputable that Arche was having that sort of dream, even the official translation made it clear. The dialogue just was not as explicit as the SNES fan translation suggested.
Not to mention a far more explicit version of the series' traditional hot springs scene.
Gameplay and Story Segregation: One of the major goals in the early part of the game is to find people who have magical powers in order to defeat Dhaos, because humans cannot use magic. Nope. Not even a little bit. Shoot plasma bolts and lightning? Turn into a giant flaming bird? Teleport?! No problem! But they can't use magic.
Speaking of defeating Dhaos, in the story he's supposed to be completely immune to anything but magic, which is why the party is gathering magic users. However in most versions other than the original;, anytime the party fights him any of the party can whack him with nonelemental weapons and purely physical arts as much as they want and it'll damage him, though he might be resistant against physical attacks during some fights, he's never completely immune. (This one veers on Acceptable Breaks from Reality though)
Guide Dang It: Unlike later Tales games, the Sorceror's Ring is an equipable item not central to the plot. Because of how little it's used, leaps of logic like "Shoot it at that jumble of mechanical parts over there" or "Use that tiny little spark to thaw out a switch" are easy to miss.
Harder Than Hard: Besides Hard mode (unlocked in SFC release by pressing XYBA at the same time on title screen when starting a game, made a selectable option in PSX release), once you finish the PSX version you may unlock Mania difficulty. All enemies have 3x HP (compare with 2x HP in Hard mode), do 50% more damage (compare to 25% in Hard) and worst of all, you do not regen a chunk of TP after every battle. Short of powerleveling through it, Mania is incredibly difficult.
The clearest example is the Mana Cannon, a highly destructive, very environment-unfriendly weapon. In the game, it was built to have a chance against Dhaos forces, which were attacking precisely because humans were developing that kind of technology. Part of the vicious cycle is that if Dhaos were not attacking, the weapon would not have had a reason to be ever built or used. In the anime, humans built the weapon even before Dhaos showed up for... no bloody reason.
The Mana Cannon existing before Dhaos in the OVA might seem like a retcon, but it's actually (very, very) vaguely implied in the game: the elves stopped communicating with humans ten years or so before the Past section, due to "humanity's foolish actions," which we can assume to be magitech research. Of course, the elves clearly never bothered to tell humans what the problem actually was, so yeah. Poor communication all around.
Karma Houdini: Reisen, the head of the magitech research, whose actions basically kickstarted the entire plot of the game by killing the Yggdrasil and antagonizing Dhaos to the point of making a peaceful solution impossible, never gets so much as fired from his job or even called out on everything he's responsible for.
Killed Off for Real: The Dhaos that was defeated by Edward and released by Mars. The party just assumes he escaped through time again when his alternate-timeline self in the Future starts causing havoc, but the player clearly see what they didn't in their haste to escape: he quite clearly remains prone on the ground as the Mausoleum collapses, and his body is crushed under falling debris. Amusingly, the party never does learn this either.
Long Song, Short Scene: The present's overworld music isn't used much due to how little of the game is spent in that time period.note Despite this, this very song is the world map music throughout Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World. Averted with the town music in that time period, however, which is reused in the future.
Lost Forever: Averted. Even after you travel to the future, you can still access all the old dungeons (except for the Mausoleum, and even then anything you find there you'll have gotten replacements for long ago,) and you can still learn all the spells and skills that you missed.
Mighty Glacier: For quite a large number of boss fights (Past Dhaos and Fen Wolf, I'm looking at you), Arche and Claus deal most of the damage while Cress is just a glorified meat shield for the rest of the party, as Mint faithfully spams her strongest heals on Cress. Granted that for an overwhelming portion of the game that your party will be the White Mage, the Cute Witch, the Summoner, and Cress the meat shield, Cress dying in a battle pretty much means that shit will hit the fan.
He's also good for interrupting casters. That's about it, but it's the player's job in most of the series anyway.
No Export for You: This game languished in Japan for years due to Namco not wanting to touch 2D games that "wouldn't sell." It took Nintendo slapping a five dollar localization onto the GBA version to allow western audiences to play a non-fan translated version of the game. The original SFC, PSX remake, and PSP extra-enhanced versions have not officially seen the light of day in the west.
One-Hit Kill: The urchin enemy in the lower levels of the Moria Gallery is a tiny enemy that inches towards your party. It also can't be hurt and instantly kills on contact. Needless to say, if you ever encounter one, run like hell in the other direction.
Hell Lords in the bottom floor of the Sylph Mountain have the ability to cast Summon Lich, which at that point in the game, is a guaranteed Total Party Kill without some severe level grinding.
Only Sane Man: Claus is usually the voice of reason within the group.
Considering the way Claus acts sometimes this would be fairly frightening if it weren't for the way NPC's keep pointing out how young the rest of the party is. In a role reversal, Arche plays Only Sane Man for a brief period in Midgard.
Opening the Sandbox: Once you get the ability to fly in the future the world becomes an open sandbox with access to areas limited primarily by your ability to handle the challenge.
Outside-the-Box Tactic: It's a running gag that the final boss, Dhaos, is susceptible to the Indignation spell. In cameo appearances in later games, he dies to one use of the spell.
Pamphlet Shelf: Numerous bookshelves throughout the world contain snippets of information, sometimes giving veiled, minor game advice, sometimes just giving flavor text and lore.
Penultimate Weapon: Eternal Sword, a generally superior weapon and the stuff of legends but Excalibur is a good deal better and in PSX version so is Gungnir (and arguably several others such as Bahamut's Tear and Luck Sword).
Pet the Dog: Rondoline's backstory in Narikiri Dungeon X is essentially a big Pet the Dog for Dhaos: she befriends him despite his quietly sinister exterior, to the point where she is stunned to find out he is considered a "Demon King" in the future.
Point of No Return - None for the endgame, you can save anywhere in the final dungeon and still leave, but once you reach the last room of the Underground Crypt, you're sealed off from the Present and the same applies for the Past when you set sail for Thor's nautical location.
Randomly Drops: One of the quests in the game requires you to find five Basilisk's Scales, which drop from, as you would imagine, Basilisks. Unfortunately they're a somewhat uncommon encounter and the drop isn't guaranteed. Later in the game a pair of dungeons requires a special charm which randomly drops from enemies, though they are much more common.
You can also get each charm by using a Rune Bottle on the version found in the dungeon that requires it - the Rune Bottle turns each charm into the other, and you need the fire charm to survive the ice dungeon (though not in the GBA version) and the water charm to survive the lava dungeon.
Rescue Romance: Very early on in the game, Cress rescues Mint from Mars' mansion. Later on, the storyline hints at romantic feelings between Cress and Mint, particularly during the Snow Means Love moment.
Scenery Porn: It would be remiss to discuss Tales of Phantasia without mentioning that it ranks among the most graphically beautiful games released for Super Famicom, and probably the most graphically advanced RPG of the 16-bit era. Effects now taken for granted like reflective water and mirrors, rippling water effects, realistic weather, etc were revolutionary at the time this game was released. Also, contained far more voice acting than most 16-bit console RPGs, and the music is considered among the best of any SFC game. This level of detail required a 48MB cartridge; compare with Chrono Trigger at 32MB, and Final Fantasy VI and EarthBound at 24MB. Star Ocean is the only other game for Super Famicom/SNES to require such a large cart.
Incidentally, Star Ocean was made by the Tales of Phantasia team after they left Namco in disgust.
Slice-and-Dice Swordsmanship: Subverted through the magic of separate Slash and Thrust attack statistics. Phantasia has four weapon types for Cress - high Thrust spears, high Slash axes, and balanced swords and halberds... and a few exceptions like the super stabby sword Dragon's Fang.
Slippy-Slidey Ice World: Not so much sliding, but it certainly does have an underground ice cave, and in keeping with tradition of ice levels, it's also a rather difficult level. Bonus points for ending with That One Boss.
The Slow Path: In the ending, Arche and Claus return to the past. Arche, however, is a half-elf with the potential to live for centuries, and she anticipates meeting her friends again in the present (her future).
Smash Mook: Golems found throughout the game. Feature very high hit points, and typically use attacks that, sure enough, smash your party, often resulting in being flung backwards and/or stunned. Frequently found serving as meat shields for mage enemies and have a really nasty habit of surrounding your party, which can be problematic.
Sword And Three Sorcerers: It's not until you've gotten through half the game that you're allowed any party combination but this. You start off with Fighter And Healer, after which the Glass Cannons show up.
Time Travel: Thanks to dividing timelines, it turns out that the final boss of the game is not the guy you've been trying to get revenge on all game long. Basically: the one you hate was defeated in the prologue and sealed away, and is killed about halfway through the game; the final boss is completely different, having split off from the original when your party replaced their own ancestors in reenacting the same prologue battle. Dammit, time travel!
Time Paradox: Dio and Mell cause one in Narikiri Dungeon when they kill their evil past selves. To resolve the paradox, the twins become one with their past selves.
Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Claus looks weird but no one seems to notice, even though he does all the talking for your party. No one seems to think it's at all strange that Arche follows you around on a floating broom either.
Tsundere :Arche. She's not very fond of Chester when they first meet each other.
Chester feels the exact same way about Arche.
Waif-Fu: Suzu. She's a little girl, both in terms of age and size, but easily the most deadly physical fighter.
You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Done with spectacular pointlessness on the part of Dhaos, who chose to wipe out his mind-controlled servant Mars the moment he was unsealed, despite the fact that Mars had pulled off Dhaos' release almost perfectly.
To be fair, Mars acted as though Dhaos was his to control, and even arrogantly demanded that he grant him his power. Dhaos' reaction was predictable to say the least.
Even more understandable, given that Dhaos had kinda basically been buried alive for a full decade, and didn't even have the benefit of being in a sort of stasis. Kind of a miracle the man had enough scraps of sanity to form coherent sentences after that.
You Killed My Father: Cress' motivation against Dhaos after his entire home village is destroyed by Mars.